It can happen when I look out the window and see the sun shining on the slopes of the Andes Mountains, which surround our historic city. Or it can be as subtle as the feeling that sneaks up on me when I am enjoying a leisurely, second cup of coffee in the morning—an experience unknown to me when I worked a high-stress job in the U.S. But no matter what triggers it, every day I find myself stopping for a minute to ask the question “Wow, am I really living in Cuenca?” This has been going on daily for three and a half years now.
It is of course, an emotional experience, but it’s based on simple, demonstrable facts. Here are the reasons I love life in Cuenca so much:
1. The Low Cost of Living
This reason likely tops the list of every other expat who lives in Cuenca. A household income of $1,500 a month for a couple allows you to live a good life here. You can easily live on your Social Security income alone. I know of single retirees who live on as little as $800 a month—something that would be completely impossible in the U.S.
In Ecuador, rent is more affordable, food is more affordable, and utilities are more affordable. Everything is more affordable, and the quality of your life revolves around that. Living so comfortably allows us to enjoy all the other great things Cuenca has to offer.
2. It’s Expat Friendly
Cuenca is a welcoming place where it is easy to make friends quickly. This is true of both the Ecuadorian population and the expats. Because the city has only a population 500,000—5,000 expats—the place feels more like a small town. People will strike up a conversation with you on the street just because you look like you must be an expat.
There are at least a dozen restaurants that cater to expats, and the online Cuenca newsletters advertise numerous events for meeting like-minded people, so there are ample opportunities for making new friends. That feeling of hospitality does not end with the expats either. Local Ecuadorians will often start conversations with you as well. They can help you immerse yourself in your new home in return for helping them practice their English.
3. The Local Culture
Cuenca has a strong Ecuadorian feel to it. That extends to experiences ranging from looking up and seeing the mountains towering over the city to simply walking the sidewalks of downtown and seeing all the colorful shops, restaurants, museums, and cathedrals that seem to be everywhere. Wander through some of the city’s giant produce markets, for instance, and you will feel totally immersed in Ecuadorian daily life.
4. A Base for Exploration
From Cuenca, it’s easy to travel to other great destinations within the country. One of the best mountain experiences you could ask for is just 15 miles to the west—the Cajas National Parque, which includes the Continental Divide of South America, the spine of the Andes. The Amazon River Delta is a short bus trip to the east, and Quito, another must-see city in Ecuador, is a 35-minute flight to the north.
5. It’s Closer to Home Than You’d Think
The technology here keeps you well connected with the world. Want to call your friends and family in the States? No problem! The quick internet in Cuenca makes it easy. Most expats have internet telephone systems, which are inexpensive to buy, and offer you a local U.S. number, which means you’re not charged for an international call.
Also all the ATMs in Cuenca give you U.S. dollars from your North American bank account. It is the legal tender in Ecuador, so there is no need to calculate any currency conversion.
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